Adapted with permission from Searching for Relatives and Ancestors in Argentina with Online Resources: Robert S Weisskirch (A version of this article originally appeared in Avotaynu, the International Review of Jewish Genealogy: Volume XXXII Number 2 Summer 2016)
Jews have been resident in Argentina since the sixteenth century when, as Spanish explorers and colonists settled in South America, Spanish conversos (or secret jews) fled continued persecution following the mass expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.
An organised community began to develop in the early 19th century and, as with other areas of the world, large waves of immigration during the next 100years brought many Jews from Europe to the country,
Today the Jewish population of Argentina is the largest in Latin America with almost 200,000 people (down from over 300,000 in the 1960s). The largest Jewish community is found in Buenos Aries with smaller communities in Bahia Blanca, Cordoba, La Plata, Mar Del Plata, Mendoza, Rosario and Santa Fe. About 85% of the community identify as Ashkenazi, while 15% claim Middle Eastern and Sephardi origin from Morocco, Turkey, Syria and other North African areas.
In much the same way Jews anglicized their surnames when they migrated to the UK or US, when they arrived in South America they often Hispanicised their names.: so for example the CH sound common in European names could become a J in Argentina. It is also custiary for women to retain their maiden names in Argentina, appending their husband’s surname with the connector “de”.
Centro de Estudio Migratorios de Latinamerica (The Centre for Latin American Migration Studies – CEMLA) CEMLA is a Catholic church run organisation that supports migrants and refugees. They have extracted information from passenger lists of arrivals into Buenos Aires/ La Plata, Argentina.
While the information may be incomplete and prone to errors one can glean important insights from the results. The website is in Spanish and there are some limitations in the search engine – for example the surname field only searches exact spelling. Fields include Apellido (surname), Nombre (given name), a date range – Desde (from – year, month, day) Hasta (until – year, month, day). You must also enter a security code with each search. Once you have entered your search parameters hit Buscar (Search).
If records have been found they will be displayed in a table. You can adjust the number of records visible by altering the number in the dropdown box in the top left hand corner – Mostrar (show) [number] registros (registrants or entries). The default is 10 records at a time but you can show all by clicking on the drop down and selecting Todos (all).
The table includes the following fields:
- Apellido – surname
- Nombre – given name
- Edad – age
- Estado Civil – marital status. This is either C – Casado/a (married) S – Soltero/a (single), D – divorciado/a (divorced) or V – viudo/a (widowed)
- Nacionalidad – nationality
- Lugar de nacimiento – place of birth
- Fecha – date of arrival
- Barco – ship
- Puerto – Port of embarkation.
Religion may be included in some early records but is not available in the search portal. The word Desconocido/a means unknown.
The voyage to Argentina from Europe took approximately two weeks and the vessel may have stopped at other ports, such as Hamburg, Southampton, New York or Rio De Janiero, potentially generating further documentation containing passenger names. Outbound passenger lists for Hamburg, Bremen, Britain and Ellis Island are available online. Brazilian immigration cards for Rio de Janiero (1900-65) and Sao Paulo (1902-1980) are available via Familysearch.
If you find a relative’s name in the CEMLA database you may be able to cross reference that information with shipping lists at the Hebrewsurnames ships database, where data from CEMLA has been extracted and organised by ship name. This could help you identify family groups travelling together.
AMIA database of Jewish cemeteries
The Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) maintains a database of Jewish cemeteries in Buenos Aries. Enter a whole or partial name into the simple search box – Nombre (name) – and click Consultar (consult). Results will include the name of the deceased, which cemetery thay are busried in, date of birth, date of death, and the section, area and burial plot number. Information gleaned from this source may be useful in then sourcing vital records from Registro Civil (the civil registry).
In 1994 a suicide bomber drove into the AMIA building in Buenos Aires killing 85 people and injuring more than 200. Spanish Wikipedia has a page on this tragedy with a list of the victims.
Jewish Colonization Association
Not all migrants to Argentina settled in the cities. At the end of the 19th century the Jewish Colonization Association sponsored migrants to crate rural agricultural colonies in the provinces. The oldest, Moisesville in Santa Fe, was established in 1891; the last, Avigdor, in 1938.
The first colonists arrived on the Wesser in 1889 to settle in Moisesville. They were mostly families from Kamanets-Podolsk in Ukraine (Galicia?). A list of family names can be found here (scroll down). There is a museum in Moisesville that is home to a variety of valuable genealogical records including cemetery lists, copies of the El Alba newspaper and lists of students and teachers at various schools, amongst other things. You can search an index of names by selecting datos genalogicos (genealogical data) then consultar apellidos (consult surnames). If you find a relevant surname you can email the museum for more information.
The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem also holds considerable information about the Jewish colonies in Argentina. They house records of communication with the Jewish Colonization Association as well as census records from the agricultural colonies and personal papers from some of the colonists. While holdings can only be viewed onsite there is an online index available, although a project is underway to digitise these records for JewishGen.
As mentioned this site has some extracted shipping lists from the CEMLA database for the years 1882-1960. The site also has burial records for Bahia Blanco, Basavilbaso, Bueno Aires, and Rio Negro and some other genealogically useful databases, such as a searchable list of obituaries from 2011 to the present, a list of Jews with Italian nationality (including those from Italian colonies in Libya and Greece) who indicated they were Jewish, and extracted lists of the 1895 census for the agricultural colonies.
- Argentina infofiles
- Kehilalinks – Argentina and Basavilbaso (both in English)
- Latin American SIG